Washington Nationals' New Center Fielder Denard Span: The Nats' New "True Defensive Ballhawk Center Fielder"

USA TODAY Sports

Washington Nationals' GM Mike Rizzo acquired Denard Span in a trade with the Minnesota Twins this past winter, adding the prototypical center fielder/leadoff man the Nats have been looking for over the last couple years. Span adds plus-defense and a high OBP to the top of the lineup of the defending NL East Champs.

The acquisition of Denard Span pushed Michael Morse out of the Washington Nationals' outfield. The presence of Tyler Moore, considered by D.C. GM Mike Rizzo an, "... an ample substitute," and "a more-controllable" alternative to back Adam LaRoche up at first, allowed the Nats to trade one year of control of the 31-year-old Morse for three pitching prospects, one of whom, Rizzo believed, could potentially replace 2011 1st Round pick Alex Meyer, the organization's top-ranked right-hander, who was traded to the Minnesota Twins to get Span.

The Nationals' GM thought enough of 21-year-old right-hander A.J. Cole when he drafted him in the 4th Round of the 2010 Draft to give him the pitcher a well-above slot deal so he would forego a commitment to the University of Miami and sign with the Nats. Cole, according to Rizzo, was also the hardest prospect to part with when he traded four players to the Oakland A's in the winter of 2011 to get Gio Gonzalez from the Athletics.

But the real selling point outside of that, in acquiring Span, was adding a high-OBP, defensive outfielder who could lead off and patrol center, something the Nats had been after but never found.

"You're talking about a true defensive ballhawk center field type of guy with great range. Sabermetrically and with a scout's eye, he's a front line defensive center fielder. - Mike Rizzo on Nats' CF Denard Span

Upon acquiring the Twins' 29-year-old, '02 1st Round pick in return for Meyer, Rizzo described Span to reporters as "a true defensive ballhawk center field type of guy with great range." "Sabermetrically and with a scout's eye," Rizzo said, Denard Span is, "... a front line defensive center fielder."

At the plate, Rizzo said, Span is a, "high average guy, .350 OBP-type of guy," who, "... doesn't strike out," or is at least, "... one of the tougher guys in the league to strike out." And in Rizzo's opinion, Span is also an outfielder the Nats' GM and scouts think, "... really going to come into his own as a base stealer in the National League."

Span was successful in 18 of 25 attempts over 98 games in his rookie campaign with the Twins in 2008 (72% SB%). In '09 he stole 23 in 33 attempts (70%) over 145 games. Span stole 26 bases in 30 attempts in 2010 (86%), collecting the highest stolen base total of his career in 153 games. In his injury-shortened 2011 season, Span stole six bases in seven attempts and last year in Minnesota the speedy outfielder stole 17 in 23 attempts (74%).

The Nats' new outfielder told 106.7 the FAN In D.C.'s Holden Kushner and Danny Rouhier this winter that he felt becoming more of a base-stealing threat would make him more of a complete player:

"I feel like if I add that to the team, add that to my game I will be a complete... first of all, it will only help the team having me at second or third base with the meat of the lineup coming up. But I feel like, myself as a player, if I can add that to my game, I will be an all-around, leadoff, prototypical player."

"There [are] pretty good power bats all the way through [the lineup]," so, "I don't mind [Span] being on second... as long as he's 40 for 40." - Davey Johnson on Denard Span; stolen bases

In an interview with a Minnesota-based radio program, Span said his goal was to steal 40 bases this season. Nats' skipper Davey Johnson, responding indirectly during Spring Training, said, "There [are] pretty good power bats all the way through [the lineup]," so, "I don't mind him being on second... as long as he's 40 for 40." In describing himself as a manager, the 70-year-old skipper entering his 17th season on the bench said, "I'm not as bad as [Earl] Weaver. But, I like to run deeper in the counts, but I haven't talked to [Span] about that. But I like the threat of running causing maybe better pitch selections at home, more fastballs."

Asked this past weekend about Span as a stolen base threat and what he added to the offense, Johnson once again discussed his thinking on stealing bases. "I'm not a big fan of getting thrown out 40% of the time," the Nationals' manager said, "I like to run in situations when they give you the opportunity to run. Some guys are very quick to the plate [and] running is relying on a bad throw from the catcher. But definitely, we'll be aggressive on the bases, and not only Denard, but [Ian Desmond], [Danny Espinosa], [Jayson Werth], [Bryce Harper]. We'll run, but it's again, you don't just start a season trying to think about you're going to steal 60 bags or stuff like that. We've got a lot of good hitters in the lineup and I don't believe in giving [away] outs, so we're not going to be running at random."

Davey Johnson's 2012 NL East Champions had a 75% SB%, which was just above league average (73%).

With Span in center, Harper in left and Werth in right, the Nationals may be missing some of the power Morse provided, but Johnson was excited about the addition of a plus-defender in center. "I don't put that much emphasis on the power," Johnson said, "pitching and defense wins ballgames too. We have a lot more outfield coverage with Span out there. I was looking at the thing the other day, this is a very rare ballclub where you've got very talented defenders who are very talented offensively."

The nation's capital will finally get a look at the Nationals' new center fielder and the new outfield alignment the organization has put together on Monday afternoon when the season starts against the Miami Marlins in Washington, D.C.

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